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Ming Chen has a lot to be enthusiastic about, even if he is officially described as the whipping boy on the new AMC reality series Comic Book Men.
Chen started working for Kevin Smith years ago as the guru of all things Internet-related. Soon enough, he became a recurring guest on the Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave along with fellow Comic Book Men stars Bryan Johnson and Walter Flanagan. He went on to take over hosting duties for the hockey-themed Puck Nuts podcast, and can now be heard all over Smith’s Smodcast Internet Radio on shows like I Sell Comics with fellow Comic Book Man and and Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash employee Mike Zapcic.
Chen’s enthusiasm could be felt in the crowd at Tuesday’s press meet-up for the upcoming AMC series that featured Smith, producer Charlie Corwin, Flanagan, Johnson and Zapcic. The gang got together to talk about the reality show, which debuts Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT, following the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead. After the general question-and-answer period, Spinoff Online sat down with Chen to talk about his most cherished collectible, getting used to being on camera and how his family reacted to news of the show.
Spinoff Online: What was your family’s reaction when you told them about being on Comic Book Men?
Ming Chen: Yeah, I think my wife is like, “As long as we’re not on it, we’re fine.” Anything else that comes hasn’t really happened yet if it’s going to happen. They’re fine with it. If people are going to run me down in Target, I don’t know. It’ll all be worth it if I get mistaken for Steve Yeun from Walking Dead.
You could just show up on set and see what happens.
Yeah, yeah, just put on the baseball hat and the jersey.
Do your kids understand that you’re going to be on TV, or are they too young still?
The kids are 6 and 4, and if I’m not animated or on iCarly or Victorious or
Sponge Bob, they have no reference. Those are the things they would pay attention to.
Was being on TV something that you’ve always thought about since you were a kid? It doesn’t seem to be something the other guys thought about too much.
I think every kid wants to be on TV. For me, it was the Adam West Batman, even to play one of the Penguin’s unnamed villains would have been cool. Or a sitcom or something, to be on The Wonder Years. Other than that, I never thought this would happen.
It’s cool that you’re friends with Kevin and he keeps helping his friends’ dreams come true.
It’s crazy, if you just hang out with him, crazy things happen. He’s doing live Q and As now and the podcasting and SmodCast.com radio and TV. What’s next?
You guys mentioned on stage that the podcasting has helped with the show, can you elaborate on that a bit more?
Just having a conversation and just having a flow naturally, but having it quick and making it sound interesting. That’s something you’re either born with or you meet a bunch of friends who are so fast and you develop that or you do it daily as part of a radio program. I never thought I’d be doing podcasting or radio, I just got thrown into it. But, when you have Kevin above you telling you to do it, then you just kind of do it. It’s weird. Some days I’m thinking if he just came up to me and said, “Listen, you’ve got to cure cancer or you’re fired,” I might be able to do it, I might find a way. Who knows? It’s pretty crazy. Making the stories sound interesting and when I podcasting with Bryan and Walt, they’re always throwing stuff out there, they’re always making fun of me. They find that line they can cross or even if there is a line, with them there’s no line anymore. When we first met there was, but there’s no line anymore. That’s something that takes times to figure out. People seem to love it.
You get the sense that you’re friends and ragging on each other with it getting too nasty.
Yeah, we all love each other.
When the cameras first started rolling were you more reserved than normal or did you go the other way and become more over the top than usual?
It took me a couple days. When I saw that red light, I went Cindy Brady a little bit. It wasn’t something I was used to and you kind of feel like you have to perform and be bigger than what I really am and then you [decide to] act like yourself and say what you would normally say.
With all the podcasting you and the other guys do, has there been anything that AMC has asked you to hold back on talking about?
Not really. I don’t think they want us to spoil anything. Other than that, it’s been pretty open. We’ve held back ourselves, we don’t want to spoil anything, we don’t want to get too into detail.
You’re used to doing your own thing with the podcasts, has it been difficult adjusting to more structure with the show?
Not really. We are pretty freewheeling if you listen. We’ll pretty much say anything about anything. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad. Bryan and Walt do not hold back, that’s what makes both of those guys so great. I have my limits, they seem to have none.
Your main focus has been online, so you didn’t work in the store on a regular basis. Was that something else that took some getting used to?
It started evolving a few years ago. Walt and Mike were there full time, but they couldn’t be there all the time. Slowly Walt would let me touch the register — that took a while. I think it was eight years before he would let me touch the register. With that you start to find out how the order the new issues, which trades go where, how many back issues they have, stuff like that. There was one day and I don’t know what happened, Mike went out of town and Walt got sick. I got a panicked call like, “Listen, you’ve got to run the store today, don’t screw it up.” The first hour was nerve-racking. Someone had turned the key on the register and I couldn’t ring people up and they’re laughing at me like, “Wow, I really feel like I’m in Clerks.” I’m like, “No, you’re not in Clerks, I haven’t been here in a while, I don’t usually work alone, just let me ring you up and quit making fun of me.”
With I Sell Comics, you’ve been reading a lot more new and old trades and comics. Has there been one book that you really liked from that experience?
Preacher is one I picked up about 10 years ago in college. That really got me back, I think that got everybody back. How can you not love it? An angel and demon’s spawn, a drunk vampire. Another is Y: The Last Man, these almost sound cliché now because everybody loves them so much. I really like machines and technical stuff, so Ex Machina is another one.
If you look in the back of the first Ex Machina trade the artist [Tony Harris] took reference photos of his friends before he put pen to paper. It’s weird because Walt also does that with Batman [The Widening Gyre and Cacophony]. It was weird because Walt was doing that with me and Mike. He was like, “You’re Batman, I’ll be the Joker,” and that’s how he would take the reference photos. Before that he would look online and I was like, “Dude, you can’t get the pose you want, you’re going to look for hours. Why don’t you just grab a digital camera and I can print them off for you.” He’s like, “You can do that?” “Yeah, totally.” That’s where his reference comes from. Mike is usually the bad guy, sometimes he’ll be the model for Batman. If you look at the Ex Machina ones, his friends, he captures them exactly, but Walt has to go off [of the pictures] and draw the Joker so that’s even more — I don’t want to say “talent” and discredit the guy — [but it’s different]. Everything from the shadows and folds of the clothing, that’s a brilliant way to go.
On stage you talked about your favorite comics, but do you have a prized collectible that’s either worth a lot or has a lot of sentimental value?
Mine is actually a sports collectible. I have a baseball signed by Cal Ripken. I’m a big Orioles fan. Before I got that, though, I had to run three miles. He was sponsoring a race in memory of his father, so I had to run the race first, I finished the race, I’m so tired, I couldn’t walk another stop and then I look over and, holy crap, Cal Ripken is signing autographs. So, I bolt back to my car, grabbed a baseball, ran back over to him and he signed it for me. That’s something I hope to pass on to my kids, “This guy is a Hall of Famer, this guy’s your role model, he’s Iron Man, don’t miss a day.”
You can see Ming Chen and the rest of the Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash crew Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, or catch him on Smodcast.com’s I Sell Comics every Thursday.